I have always loved the Big Island’s Mauna Kea Resort in Hawaii. It has been a traveler favorite for decades. While some today call it “outdated,” I actually prefer the mid-century modern design, open-air ambiance, and the laid back vibe to the overly done, nouveau Hawaii hotels.
So I was really looking forward to my work/pleasure trip to the Mauna Kea earlier this summer to spend quality time with my family after a very busy year.
The location of this resort never disappoints – the white sand, crescent beach is wonderful…
…with perfect sized waves for boogie boarding kids up to age 12. Older kids might find the gentle waves terribly boring,but it was perfect for us.
The Mauna Kea also has a large, lovely grass area adjacent to the beach where, having a sporty family, we played soccer, and Wiffle ball for hours. There is also a volleyball court nearby. (We brought all our sporting equipment – the resort doesn’t provide that.)
The breakfast area is probably one of my favorite of all hotels… on a hill overlooking the beach, with a soft breeze -eliciting the inner peace for which Hawaii is famously associated.
All the accoutrements for a good time, right? One would think. But the Grand Dame, despite the recent face-lift, isn’t aging so gracefully. Though tending to the superficial, I’m afraid she’s losing it’s some of her soul.
For five of the eight days we were there, it was breezy. But the hotel won’t open any umbrellas on the sand for the guests if there is any chance of them blowing down and hurting someone, even in the slightest breeze. Understood. Totally legitimate.
Guests had to search for any bit of shade they could find.
The problem, aside from families baking in the hot sun all day, is the beach staff’s indifferent and rude attitude toward guests inquiring about the umbrellas. It was shocking.
One lifeguard, wouldn’t answer questions about when he thought the wind may die down, and instead chose to talk over guests defensively, as if he’s had other guests complain about the policy many times before. I realize the beach staff is contracted out, and the workers there are powerless to do anything, but attitude is something one can control.
Does he not know that there are hotels just up the road that would have taken a guest’s room number, and done everything short of networking with the weather gods to make that guest happy? Did he forget there is a hotel with the perpetual response – “Certainly, my pleasure?”
There ARE actually chaise lounges with pull down cabana-like shades on the beach… but there are only about 20 for hundreds of guests. So… guests have to wake up at 6 AM, sleep walk down to the sand, and reserve one of the 20 chaises with towels. That didn’t feel like a high-end resort to me.
Note to management: Those same cabana chairs cost about $300 online… a small investment to keep guests comfortable and coming back. Oh – and while you are shopping? Please pick up some more stand up paddle boards. We tried to rent them for four days, and the 6 or so the hotel had were always already rented. Might want to get a few boogie boards too – but please bring down the rental price for families already paying hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars for rooms. $30 an hour to rent a boogie board for each child, that costs $20 at Costco to own forever, is crazy.
You could send your kids to the game room for a break from the sun… but it was so outdated, it was depressing. It smelled musty, and the empty bookshelves were screaming for some board games. There is a ping pong table and Fuzbol, but you have to walk to the front desk to get the paddles and balls, and even then they only had three paddles and ONE ball in the entire resort.
The service, while friendly, was inconsistent… We had the “Kids Eat Free” program, and didn’t know the hotel took care of the gratuity until one of the servers stamped our bill to notify us. We asked why no one had told us before, and she answered, “Because I’M honest.”
As one guest there who has been going for years told me, the Mauna Kea is sadly losing it’s Aloha Spirit.
It pains me to to say that because I love so many things about the Mauna Kea -
Rockefeller’s art collection…
Adjoining decks at Mauna Kea
the adjoining rooms for families…
the gorgeous snorkeling…
But with so many other luxury hotel options in Hawaii now, the Mauna Kea would be smart to not rest on its laurels, but work to restore the luster.